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5 Tishrei 5760 - September 15, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky & American Rabbonim View P'eylim/Lev L'Achim Activities in Eretz Yisroel

by Eliezer Schwartz

A delegation led by Philadelphia Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky toured through Eretz Yisroel during the past summer and had a firsthand glimpse at some of the numerous activities being coordinated by P'eylim/Lev L'Achim. Their tour and series of briefings began the moment they entered the vehicle that was to transport them to Lev L'Achim centers throughout the country. This report gives us a chance to summarize and update some of the achievements that we have reported on throughout the past year.

Inside Look at Teens at Risk

The delegation left Yerushalayim for Bnei Brak at 7:30 A.M. During the hour-long car ride its members, including Rabbi Yaakov Reisman, rav of Agudas Yisroel of Far Rockaway/Lawrence, and Rav Elya Kanarek, rosh yeshivas Ohr Hameir of Peekskill New York, heard an in-depth report on the teenage dropout situation in Eretz Yisroel. Rabbi Avrohom Zeiwald, a senior member of Lev L'Achim's hanholo, outlined the Lev Shomea program, which contends with this problem on a national scale.

A fascinating discussion ensued between the distinguished passengers of the van about whether the teenage dropout problem, which unfortunately is becoming a growing problem in both Israel and the United States, stems from a common cause in the two communities.

Lev L'Achim representatives opined that the disparate cultural milieu of the Israeli and American Torah communities rules out a comparison between the dropout tendencies of the two countries. One example cited to support this view is the vast difference in the standards of living prevalent in both countries; the potential pitfalls of material wealth that American teenagers must contend with daily are virtually unknown in Israel. The American rabbonim countered this argument by listing the numerous external threats spearheaded by anti-religious parties against which the Israeli Torah community must struggle and which are virtually unknown in America.

"The whole world is a single entity," HaRav Kamenetsky explained, "and the dangers are the same everywhere."

Rabbi Reisman cited an oft-quoted statement ascribed to the Skverer Rebbe in support of this idea: "The yetzer hora," said the Skverer Rebbe, "does not need a passport to get around. It knows no borders."

Rabbi Tzvi Greenbaum, director of Lev Shomea, Lev L'Achim's dropout prevention division, presented an even more in-depth report on this crucial issue. The American rabbonim listened with great interest to Rabbi Greenbaum's description of Hillel, an anti-religious organization run by apikorsim dedicated to luring religious youths away from the path of Torah. Its volunteers stalk the main religious centers in search of religious runaways, offering them free room and board on non-religious kibbutzim. Members of Lev Shomea work day and night to frustrate this organization's wicked work.

"Zeh leumas zeh," said HaRav Kamenetsky of Hillel. "It should come as no surprise, in this imperfect world of ours, all good is counterweighted by a commensurate measure of evil."

To underscore the difficulty of the task entrusted to Lev Shomea, Rabbi Greenbaum related a dialogue that recently took place between himself and HaRav Nissim Karelitz. Rabbi Greenbaum went to ask the noted Bnei Brak poseik for guidance regarding a particularly delicate problem involving a certain bochur.

HaRav Karelitz responded, "But surely you've encountered this problem before."

"Actually," Rabbi Greenbaum answered, "we have not, we do not have a mesora in this sugya."

HaRav Karelitz retorted, "Your experience is my mesora."

Rabbi Greenbaum cited some shocking statistics to illustrate the scope of the dropout problem in Israel: 1,000 calls received on his division's crisis hotline; 16 employees and 150 volunteers. But there are also many positive signs indicating that the Torah community is responding to the growing problem: last week over 100 mashgichim from the best yeshivos in Israel attended a yom iyun on this topic organized by Lev Shomea.

In Bnei Brak the delegation visited Lev L'Achim's hostel for battered women, which provides emergency assistance for Jewish women who intermarried with Arabs and subsequently suffered the physical and emotional abuse that is so prevalent in those situations. Rabbi Ze'ev Shtiglitz, head of Lev L'Achim's Intermarriage Prevention Program, outlined some of his division's responsibilities.

They include: raising public awareness of this problem through lectures, media releases and publication of brochures and handbooks; sponsoring an emergency intake hotline for battered women; counselling family members; launching clandestine missions to rescue Jewish women and children trapped in Arab villages; providing emergency housing, food, transportation, clothing, school supplies and other necessities for victims of domestic violence and their children; and providing women and children with psychological treatment and counselling to help them reintegrate into mainstream society and make a fresh start. In time many of these women, who generally have no inkling of the basics of what it means to be a Jew, become fully observant.

The hostel is run as a chessed and hatzolah institution, and no religious indoctrination, as it were, is forced upon these unfortunate women. Yet, after witnessing the mesiras nefesh of the Lev L'Achim staff, they generally embrace their heritage as if discovering a long lost treasure. Rabbi Shtiglitz related to the visibly shocked American rabbonim, that two years ago Lev L'Achim officials asked HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv whether the organization should continue shouldering the heavy financial burden of maintaining the emergency hostel, which amounts to $500,000 yearly. HaRav Eliashiv's answer: Absolutely, even if not one of the women will become observant.

New Schools, New Battlegrounds

From Bnei Brak the delegation headed to Tzoran and Kadima, where it visited a day camp for the students of the local Torah school established last year, which has been under constant attack by leftist parties ever since its opening last September. In 1998 the new, beleaguered school had 20 students; this coming September it will have 70!

Members of the delegation were visibly stirred by the sight of so many children from obviously non-religious backgrounds, gathered together under one roof for the purpose of learning Torah.

"It's one thing to read about Tzoran and the tenacity of the children and their parents in the face of so much adversity," said Rav Reisman, "but to actually see these children flourishing in their Torah studies is quite another."

HaRav Kamenetsky, in response to the teachers' request, said some warm divrei brocho to the children. "May you," said a visibly moved HaRav Kamenetsky to the children, "become the spiritual leaders and teachers of the next generation." The children responded with a resounding "Omein."

On the way out of the building HaRav Kamenetsky said to Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, Director General of Lev L'Achim: "I mamesh can't believe what is going on over here. We are witnessing open miracles!"

New Chadera Torah Center

From Tzoran the delegation headed to Chadera, where Lev L'Achim recently celebrated the chanukas habayis of a new home for the highly successful regional branch located in that city. Rabbi Yaakov Burshtein, director of Lev L'Achim of Chadera, told the rabbonim of how Maran HaRav Shach urged him twenty years ago -- a yungerman from Yerushalayim -- to move to Chadera and spread Yiddishkeit.

In those days the city lacked even the most basic necessities of a Jewish life, such as mikvo'os and Torah schools. Nevertheless Rabbi Burshtein disseminated the message of Torah among thousands of local residents through sheer persistence and siyata diShmaya.

Over the years, as ever-increasing numbers of individuals became fully observant in Chadera, a semblance of religious communal life gradually formed. Today Chadera's sizable religious community comprises a large portion of the city's population. The Lev L'Achim branch offers a wide range of projects: outreach activities, intensive Torah education programs attended by more than 800 participants per week, counselling and guidance services for the newly-observant, and the enrollment of children in religious schools. The facility is located in downtown Chadera. It also serves as a regional headquarters for kiruv activities in the neighboring communities of Givat Olga, Sdot Yam, Gan Shmuel, and Talmei Elazar.

A Beis Medrash in Afula

One of the most poignant developments of the nationwide enrollment drive of 1998 was the initiation of a Torah school in Afula. During the first decades of settlement and migration in the State of Israel, the forces of the Left -- Ma'arach, Shomer Hatzair and the Kibbutz movement -- exercised complete control in this region. A dejected Rav Kirshtein, a pioneering rov who valiantly tried to rekindle the spark of Yiddishkeit, lamented over the plight of this section of Eretz Yisroel to the Ponevezher Rav zt'l. The Rav responded with an unforgettable prediction; "There will come the day when Torah will flourish in Afula and there will be a beis medrash in Ein Charod (the notoriously secular kibbutz located nearby)".

Rabbi David Malka, menahel of the new Afula Torah School, greeted the delegation. He was joined by Rabbi Menachem Gold, an American yungerman who has coordinated with Lev L'Achim an entire host of programs geared at bringing the beauty of Torah life to this city on the slope of Givat Hamoreh. They have a lot to accomplish in the months and years to come but in Ein Charod there is now a minyan for tefilla daily; a once impossible dream has come true.

The building which houses the Torah school, was formerly a Shomer Hatzair club. Here, in years gone by, after being coaxed by a kibbutz loudspeaker truck to attend Shabbos afternoon gatherings, the children of Afula were once indoctrinated with the empty ideology of the Left.

"Our biggest problem in Afula", said Rav Sorotzkin to the delegation, "is the fact that there are no kollel families living in this area who can act as the ready volunteers in the follow-up work that is necessary to help the people of Afula on their path to teshuvah. The few professionals we have here are the sole link to authentic Yiddishkeit for hundreds of families."

Enrollment Drive 1999

Perhaps the best example of the amazing effect Lev L'Achim is having on the people of Eretz Yisroel, is the story of the new Torah school opened by Rabbis Tanami and Melamed in Rechasim, on the outskirts of the Girls Town campus. In the early days of the 1998 drive, shortly after Maran HaRav Steinman issued the historic call for 5000 children to be registered in Torah schools, Rav Yehuda Melamed approached Lev L'Achim with a remarkable offer. "You fellows concentrate on registering as many kids as you can in this area, and I'll make a school especially for them."

The process of campaigning nationwide for people to register their children in Torah schools is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, every effort must be made to reach every possible child. On the other hand, it is no use enrolling a child if there is no school that can accommodate him. Even where a school exists, it may be overcrowded or simply unable to handle an influx of students from non-religious homes in such massive proportions. Thus, Rabbi Melamed's offer was greeted with great joy.

In an amazing feat of rapid construction, the new three-story Rechasim Torah school -- replete with a computer room and all the amenities of a modern school -- was built from foundation to finishing touches in less than six months. On the first day of school in September, Lev L'Achim personnel wept unabashedly as Rav Melamed led his 150 new pupils in reciting Krias Shema prior to entering the building. At this time, registration for 1999-2000 already stands at 300 and is growing daily! In the surrounding Krayot region, six new ganim have been opened which will feed the new Rechasim School on a steady basis in the years to come.

As parents entered to make final arrangements for their children's registration the delegation of American rabbonim looked on in amazement. HaRav Kamenetsky spoke with parents who, although not yet observant themselves, had decided to take this first step for their children. "We saw for ourselves just who is being registered," the Rosh Hayeshiva later wrote in a letter to his talmidim. "We saw who is bringing these people in and we realized that it is here that the potential lies to transform Eretz Yisroel!"

The visit of the rabbonim coincided with the annual tour of American yeshiva representatives. Each summer during bein hazmanim, a bus load of bochurim from the many yeshivos who go out on Purim and other times in America to raise funds for P'eylim/Lev L'Achim, spend a few days seeing firsthand just what it is that their roshei yeshiva have been urging them to help. HaRav Kamenetsky addressed the bochurim under the shade of a magnificent tree on the Rechasim campus. His words were heard against a backdrop of miraculous achievement, which instilled a renewed sense of commitment in the entire group.

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